- Sushma Swaraj left the SAARC informal meeting midway
- Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi criticised her
- It is understood that Sushma Swaraj had other meetings scheduled
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday made a strong statement on terrorism threatening peace and stability in South Asia at a meeting of SAARC ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Regional cooperation in South Asia is not possible without an environment of peace and security, said the minister.
"The number of threats and incidents that endanger South Asia are on the rise. Terrorism remains the single-largest threat to peace and stability in our region, and indeed in the world. It is necessary that we eliminate the scourge of terrorism in all its forms, without any discrimination, and end the ecosystem of its support," the foreign minister said in an indirect reference to Pakistan as she addressed the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) foreign ministers.
"I would like to stress that meetings, including high-level ones, can only be effective if expressions of resolve are translated in to concrete action on the ground," the minister said.
Her comments are significant after India last week turned down Pakistan's request for a meeting of the two foreign ministers over the killing of a soldier and three policemen in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan's new prime minister Imran Khan had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting the meeting of the ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. India first accepted the request, but a day later, rejected it after the killings and over Pakistan's move to release stamps glorifying terrorist Burhan Wani, who was killed by security forces in Kashmir in 2016.
The two foreign ministers avoided meeting each other on Thursday.
As Sushma Swaraj left the venue without waiting for his statement, the Pakistani foreign minister said: "In the progress of SAARC only one country's behaviour is the stumbling block. When it comes to any positive gesture from India's side, all I can say is that she left the meeting midway, maybe she wasn't feeling well."
Indian officials said Mr Qureshi's allegations are "baseless and away from reality". Sushma Swaraj, said the officials, had "extensively dealt with various SAARC related projects. She also expressed India's unwavering commitment for making SAARC a success as regional grouping."
Describing the Pakistani Foreign Minister's remarks about Sushma Swaraj leaving the SAARC meeting "surprising and unfortunate", the sources clarified. "It should be noted that she was neither the first one nor the only one who left the meeting. Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan and Bangladesh left the meeting before India's External Affairs Minister. Also, leaving a meeting after delivering own speech is a standard practice in the multilateral engagements. (The minister) left the meeting after delivering her speech as she had another meeting lined up with Indian community groups and other bilateral engagements."
After India's decision to cancel the foreign ministers' talks, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan had tweeted: "Disappointed at the arrogant and negative response by India to my call for resumption of the peace dialogue. However, all my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture."
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